New Perspectives on the Cuban Revolution and Counterrevolution: Challenging Official Narratives and Popular Assumptions

AHA Session 141
Conference on Latin American History 40
Saturday, January 4, 2014: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Columbia Hall 2 (Washington Hilton)
Michael Bustamante, Yale University
Ada Ferrer, New York University

Session Abstract

The Cuban Revolution receives as much media and popular attention as any major event in contemporary Latin American history. Yet fifty-four years after Fidel Castro triumphantly entered Havana, our understanding of revolutionary Cuba's social, political, and cultural history remains strikingly underdeveloped—limited by a dearth of sources, restrictions on archival access, the continued political polarization of the field, and resulting tendencies to assess the Revolution's course either from the top-down or through the prism of U.S.-Cuban relations. 

In recent years, new scholarship has begun to examine the Revolution from the bottom-up. Drawing on previously underused or difficult-to-access materials, historians are putting forth more layered, nuanced interpretations of Cuba's revolutionary conjuncture. Simultaneously, scholars are reconceptualizing the periodization and geographies of Cuban revolutionary history by tracing important political trajectories across the 1959 watershed, moving away from the Havana-centric focus of most studies, and placing events on the island in greater dialogue with the political and cultural history of the Cuban expatriate community (above all in South Florida). Indeed, just as we lack dynamic histories of revolutionary state formation and cultural politics at the grassroots, most histories of Cuban émigrés continue to emphasize commonality of experience and ideology instead of deeply interrogating communal polemics, generational fissures, and social tensions.

This panel brings together a sampling of new work in this vein. Moving between the island and Miami, politics and culture, these papers go beyond well-worn histories of Cuba's revolutionary or exile leadership, the state's overarching socio-economic policies, or exiles' collusion with the CIA. Instead, they explore the internal dynamics of the Cuban Revolution and the expanding Cuban diaspora from within. In so doing, they not only depart from older paradigms of analysis, but also challenge the streamlined, teleological quality of many narratives of revolutionary and exile experience. Yet far from leaving behind the "big questions" motivating earlier scholarship—for instance, the basic inquiry guiding Marta Harnecker's 1979 book Cuba: Dictatorship or Democracy?—this new research positions historians to re-examine the Revolution's conflicting legacies of empowerment and repression with greater analytical sophistication and rigor. Finally, while highlighting new insights, these papers will also emphasize the continued challenges facing historians interested in Cuba's post-1959 period, in the hopes of sparking relevant discussions of methodology.

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